Name: Donna Kolnes
Job / Title: Director, Associate General Counsel
Company: Adobe Systems Incorporated
Q: From your perspective, what are the most important trends that will take place in your industry in the next 10 years?
Donna: I think the Internet of Things will have a significant impact on everyone’s lives. Each of us is already connected to the internet via our computers, tablets and phones, and we depend on them greatly. It’s not so much of a stretch to enjoy wearable devices such as the Apple watch and other smart technology such as thermostats and home monitoring systems. All of these devices will connect to the internet and the data will be stored in the cloud. Analytics gathered from the data will be used to create better and more personalized experiences for each connected person. This, of course, is currently bringing a lot of focus on privacy issues and data security issues which will continue to be very important subjects for years to come.
Q: If you can share one piece of advice that you know now about navigating your career, what would that be?
Donna: Don’t give up on what you want. Once you know what it is that you really and truly want, keep trying to achieve it. Then plan the next ‘want’. People will give you all kinds of advice and they will have all kinds of biases, but take all that with a grain of salt and stay focused on what YOU want. If you don’t yet know what you want, take one or more self-assessment tests to find out what your strengths are. Most of us enjoy work that capitalizes on our strengths and allows us to make strong contributions.
Q: What is the challenge that you are most proud of overcoming? Explain.
Donna: I’m a first-generation student. I’m the first in my family to graduate from college. I worked part-time to support myself and pay for college. It took me 5 years but that didn’t bother me. I knew I’d have far better opportunities after graduation, and I did. After a couple of years, I decided to go to law school. I did that for 4 years at night while working full time. It’s all very doable; you’ve just got to really want it.
Q: What tips do you have for other women just starting out in your profession?
Donna: Be very curious and ask a lot of questions. Be a sponge. Don’t turn down a project because it is outside of your area of responsibility, do the project – that’s how you grow your skills. Find an output balance: meaning, working too slow you won’t get enough done but working too fast will cause the quality of your work to suffer. Find that balance and crank out some really good work. Also, find a work/life balance otherwise you won’t be able to sustain.
Q: What are some areas that you feel you can improve on at this stage of your career?
Donna: I can improve my mentoring, teaching and people management skills. I think everyone can always improve on these but, for me, sharing my career experiences and knowledge can provide real value to others. I’d like to do more mentoring, teaching and coaching but I need to find ways to balance that with my daily work.
Q: How has what you want to develop at this time in your career differed from the beginning of your career?
Donna: At the beginning of my career, it was all about me – what I needed to know, who I needed to meet, how I would get to the next level. Now it’s about others and supporting them in career advancement.
Q: What does leadership mean to you?
Donna: It means a number of things to me. It means influencing others to accomplish a specific outcome that I believe in. It means setting a vision and making decisions that I am responsible for. I am a leader for my group as I provide guidance, mentoring, teaching and support with sincerity and integrity.
Q: What are ways that you have balanced career, personal, and other interests?
Donna: I worked part-time for 12 years while raising my twins. I didn’t plan on that when I originally returned to work from maternity but it was, in my heart of hearts, really what I wanted. I didn’t want to stop working and I didn’t want to leave my career. I wanted to continue to grow my career and my skills but I also wanted to work less than full time. An unfortunate incident with a nanny is what did it for me. I quit my fulltime job so that I could find a part-time one. My company asked me to stay around, part-time, until they could find my replacement. They never did. I worked hard during the hours I was in the office and my clients never knew I was part-time. I gave everyone my home phone number, but they rarely called me there. I managed a very full workload and tried to make it seamless so that my clients never felt any pinch by my being part-time. It all worked out very well and I feel so blessed to have been able to have everything I wanted in a work/life balance.
Q: Tell us something about yourself that is a fun fact.
Donna: I’ve always been mechanically inclined. When I was about 9 or 10, my older brother was teasing me mercilessly, as usual, so to get back at him I took his Schwinn bike apart – down to the last nut and bolt. I knew he couldn’t put it back together again. My dad had a good laugh at this and then made me put the bike back together.
Q: What do you like to do to unwind?
Donna: I do mosaic art. I like repurposing broken tiles, glass and other things that would normally end up in the landfill and creating beautiful garden sculptures, home décor and jewelry.
Donna Kolnes is a member of the CLUB and was selected for the 2015 CLUB Incubator program based on her leadershipstyle: confident, wise and creative – essential skills for continued success in a constantly evolving and demanding environment. We’re delighted to learn from Donna’s experience.